Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2463

Article | Open Access

A Post-Development Perspective on the EU’s Generalized Scheme of Preferences

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Abstract:  Trade policy is generally considered to be a key leverage in the pursuit of labor norms, environmental standards, and human rights. This is even more so for the European Union (EU), which exerts an extensive market power and exclusive competences in trade while lacking a full-fledged foreign policy. In recent years, there has been a growing demand for making sustainable development provisions “enforceable” and for more frequently applying trade sanctions. Taking a post-development perspective, we interrogate the EU’s enforceability discourse around the trade–sustainability nexus. We focus specifically on the conditionality behind the Generalized Scheme of Preferences (GSP). The EU GSP regime bears the “carrot” (reduced tariffs), the “stick” (preferential tariff withdrawals), and increasingly intrusive “monitoring” mechanisms. Drawing on the post-development literature, we problematize the discourses that fundamentally enframe the EU GSP conditionality regime: development through trade, performance of power, and epistemic violence. Empirically, we analyze these frames by looking at public-facing texts produced by policy elites in the EU as well as in Cambodia and the Philippines during the two most recent GSP reform cycles since 2014. We argue that the dominant discursive acts of policy elites in the EU and the two target countries congeal into a global presupposition that there is no alternative to the EU GSP regime, thereby effacing counterhegemonic perspectives and stripping emancipatory notions such as “dialogue” and “partnership” of their radical potential. This formulation demands a genuine commitment to researching with the very people the EU is intent on regulating, reforming, and rescuing to unsettle taken-for-granted views about EU trade sanctions.

Keywords:  Cambodia; conditionality; development; European Union; Generalized Scheme of Preferences; Philippines; post-development; sanctions; trade


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© Jan Orbie, Antonio Salvador M. Alcazar III, Tinus Sioen. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.